Angel Cain had been to plenty of “pink” games over the years, when money and awareness is raised for breast cancer research.
But she never gave it a lot of thought.
“I would go to pink games and support them,” Cain said. “But you just don’t think it’s going to hit home.”
That changed on Dec. 9, 2015, when the Spring Mills resident was diagnosed with breast cancer. A grueling battle ensued, filled with agony for her and everyone close.
But last fall, she made it to the other side — a survivor to tell the tale.
The Penns Valley softball team was inspired.
When the Lady Rams host East Juniata at noon Saturday at their diamond behind the high school, they will be working to create some good out of Cain’s tribulations by going “pink” in support of breast cancer research.
“It’s just two teams fighting for a good cause,” said Ryleigh Cain, Angel’s daughter and the Lady Rams’ freshman third baseman. “I hope for the win, but if we don’t, in the end it is for a good cause.”
Spearheading the cause is Mikenna Lyons, Angel Cain’s niece.
“That made me want to do it,” Lyons said. “She had a really hard time.”
There will be a bake sale and baskets filled with donations raffled off at the game. The team sold special T-shirts, and both squads will wear them during pregame warmups. Proceeds from the entire event will benefit the American Cancer Society.
The Lady Rams also will accessorize with as much pink — the symbolic color for the fight against breast cancer — as possible, on their shoelaces, socks, hair bows and even their “eye black.”
It’s the second year the Penns Valley softball team has had a fundraiser game. Last year it held a “Strike Out Sarcoma” in support of TJ Coursen, the father of a junior high player.
Coach Tessa Deardorff hopes it remains an annual event on their schedule.
“It gives them something to play for, which is always an important thing — to know they are raising money for a good cause,” Deardorff said. “It’s something they should always strive to do, whether they are playing or on their own.”
For Angel Cain, who turns 42 on Tuesday, it’s been a story of survival.
Getting her first mammogram at age 40, when women are encouraged to begin the extra screening, the cancer was discovered. She said she had felt a lump a week earlier but hadn’t put much thought to it.
She was diagnosed with HER2-positive, a rather aggressive form of breast cancer because it has a gene mutation that makes an excess of a protein that promotes the cancer growth. According to the Mayo Clinic, 20 percent of HER2 cases include the positive test for the protein, and it is more likely in younger women.
What ensued for Cain were six rounds of chemotherapy, two surgeries and 36 rounds of radiation.
“I had everything thrown at me,” Cain joked.
Her most recent procedure was reconstructive surgery four weeks ago, and she will be returning to her job at Mount Nittany Medical Center on Monday.
Somewhere in the middle of the battle, she got to see her son Allen graduate from Penns Valley.
“It was a tough year last year,” Cain said. “But this was a great community to live in, to support.”
It was a tough year last year. But this was a great community to live in, to support.
Cain also wished she could have had her mammogram earlier — it would have reduced the treatment.
“I can’t stress enough about mammograms,” Cain said. “Women need to get them.”
Watching the fight were her daughter and niece.
Lyons decided she needed to do something, and the rest of the team was also looking to hold a pink game, so during the winter she approached her coach with her idea and the school and athletic department signed off on the plan.
“I was more than happy to support it,” Deardorff said. “We have had breast cancer in our family with relatives, so it’s something that’s important to me. Anything she needed I was more than willing to help out.”
Lyons, who will be attending Penn College in the fall and hopes to continue playing softball there, has been involved in many of the details, such as ordering the T-shirts and setting up the events for Saturday.
She’s also glad the game is against East Juniata, coached by Joe Schilling. He coaches Lyons on the Juniata Jaguars summer travel team.
“He was excited that we chose that game,” said Lyons, who doesn’t have a specific number in mind for a goal, just “to raise as much money as possible.”
The mere fact that Lyons is putting in all this time and effort has made her aunt proud.
“She isn’t doing this for a senior project; she isn’t doing this for a grade,” Cain said. “She’s just doing this because she knows the impact that breast cancer research has had on her family.”
Lyons is the Lady Rams’ shortstop, next to Ryleigh Cain on the left side of the infield.
It’s a special experience just to have a family member next to you on the field, but it’s even more special to have someone work so hard after being inspired by her mom.
Said Ryleigh: “It’s been amazing to have her on my side through this whole journey.”